Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Smell of the Afterlife

When a workbench leaves a workshop, the results can be sad.

I’ve seen perfectly good workbenches transformed into plant stands in a hallway. I’ve seen them as displays for pottery. And I’ve seen a lot of them pressed into service as kitchen islands.

This last use might not be the worst fate for a workbench. At least it still sees the occasional cutting tool, some fiberous plant materials (ginger, carrots) and perhaps even a little blood. Heck, a woodworking vise does a good job of opening jars of pickles and peanut butter.

The saddest examples are usually in retail. I’ve seen several workbenches in clothing stores holding stacks of sweaters, underwear and high-end jeans. This weekend, reader Jonathan Hartford sent me a photo of a French workbench he found at a Crabtree and Evelyn store in Massachusetts.

Its drawer is filled with fragrant soaps. Its bottom shelf holds gift boxes instead of bench planes. (Note the nice detail on the bottom stretcher.) Hartford snapped the photo above and then gave the bench a hip check.

Still solid, he reports.

Perhaps there is hope for this one to go back in the shop someday. I don’t know if you’ll ever get that flowery smell out, however.

– Christopher Schwarz

16 thoughts on “The Smell of the Afterlife

  1. robert Mullins

    My wife is a manager for Crabtree and angrily informed me that this is a L’Occitane store (their competitor). She previously worked there too. I am an avid hand tool woodworker with all my free time and am a little ashamed to be pointing this out, but she told me I couldn’t buy the Wenzloff saw I was planning to unless I did. So there you go… I’ll go have a shot of whiskey now and attempt to scrap my dignity off the floor.

  2. Bill Rusnak

    I am officially founding the MWLF (Militant Workbench Liberation Front)! I say we band together and demand these evil corporate monsters free their sad, lonely captives if they know what’s good for them. Are you with me? I’ll be doing some recon at the Crabtree and Evelyn store at a mall near me soon.

    Bill

    PS: This is all in good fun. Please don’t storm your local froo-froo soap store. With the poor economy and the growing number of vacant stores in shopping malls, these might be available cheap should these stores go the way of the dodo bird.

  3. Dave Haynes

    Being in the middle of making my first workbench (out of hard maple), my mind just won’t let me believe that if this owner knew what I have gone through so far, that bench wouldn’t be supporting "do-dads".

    I’m hoping someone will rescue it before it’s all said and done!

    Meanwhile, I’ll continue with building my bench and when it’s done, it will be used for my enjoyment during retirement. I might even add pictures of it on the website.

    Dave
    http://www.oldaveswoodshop.com

  4. Josh Brown

    Well, there’s another reason for me not to eat at Cracker Barrell…
    I’ve sat in several restaurants like that and viewed in quiet horror among other things; a 30" wooden plane, many rip saws, and even an antique screw box. All of them had been drilled and screwed to the wall with long drywall screws. Nobody else around me seemed to care, but I had a knot in my stomach (could have been the meatloaf, though…ugh…not recommended.)
    I agree with Chris…don’t start the revolution without me. (Subtle Gene Wilder, Kevin Sutherland reference…)

    JB

  5. Christopher Schwarz

    Bill,

    I think we need to organize an uprising to liberate all the tools off the walls at all the chain restaurants. We could then redistribute them to other tool-lacking woodworkers.

    Chris

  6. Bill

    Hey at least it’s still intact, in existence and in use (of sorts). It hasn’t had holes drilled through it for sheetrock screws to hold it to the wall, like so many nice old tools at Cracker Barrel. They always remind me of mounted insect specimens impaled on pins and labeled.

    And there’s always the possibility that, like so many of the "antique" artifacts hanging from the ceiling and on the walls at Cracker Barrel and TGI Fridays, it’s a modern reproduction. They can be quite convincing.

    I’m just sayin’.

  7. Rob Porcaro

    Hey, lighten up everybody.

    Where’s the self-esteem, fellow woodworkers? The workbench in the store may be like a fan who wears a team jersey but never for playing the game. The store looks like a L’Occitane (teenage daughter and gifts for my wife, ok?) who seem to market their authentic rustic roots. Walk in, tell them you’re a woodworker, and they may ask you to autograph the bench.

    All right, maybe not.

    Rob

  8. Daniel Grant

    Someone should offer to purchase it from the owner if it’s that much of a concern – offer to build them a (visually) comparable replacement, even.

    At least it’s still around to be returned to its rightful place in the shop – the alternative fate may have been junking it up for firewood.

  9. Frank

    Although sad there is a bright side. Workbenches that are now being used for purposes they weren’t originally intended for are still around and not in a landfill.

  10. Bob Easton

    Oh dear! What’s the address of that store? We need to put a skull and crossbones symbol on the map at that address.

    My reference is to a boatbuilding instructor who drew for us a map of interesting locations along the Maine coast. He labeled a couple of "fudge and scented candle" places with skull and crossbones markers.

    Full story at: http://www.bob-easton.com/blog/?p=436

  11. Christopher Schwarz

    I’ve actually seen real workbenches with pegs like that protruding into the vise area. It’s fairly common after the top shrinks. If the bench were in use, the woodworker would knock them deeper into thwe holes or trim them off.

    Chris

  12. Mattias in Durham, NC

    There is something fishy with that workbench. Look at the pegs that protrude inside the vice. Those would put a nice dent in your workpiece any time you clamped anything. The distressed edges look a lot like World Market furniture. I think maybe this bench is a piece of cheap furniture that looks a lot like a workbench. I’d like to think no real workbench had to die to become this particular store display, although I’m sure many do.

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